Virtues: Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) tolerates dry conditions, poor soil and air pollution. Native to the eastern United States, it provides year-round interest in a garden while supporting wild birds with its berries.
Botanical name: Rhus typhina
Common name: Staghorn sumac
Flowers: Cone-shaped panicles bloom with tiny yellow-green flowers in early summer. On female plants, these flowers give way to hairy, bright red berries (shown bottom) ripening in autumn and often persisting into the winter, when they are eaten by birds.
Foliage: Each leaf is made up of 1 to 2 dozen long, narrow leaflets, giving the shrub a fine texture. Leaves are green in spring and summer and turn bright orange or red in the fall (shown top). Young twigs and branches are covered in reddish fuzz, similar to how a male deer, or stag, may have a velvety covering on his antlers.
Habit: Open deciduous shrub to 15 to 25 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. It can also grow as a small multi-trunked tree.
Origins: Roughly the eastern half of North America, short of the deep Southeast, in dry uplands and the edges of forests.
Season: Spring and summer for foliar texture; fall for foliage color and berries; winter for berries and fuzz-covered twigs.
How to grow staghorn sumac: Grow in poor or average soil with good drainage, in full sun or part shade. It can spread by seed and by suckering (new stems arising from the roots). Best in a naturalistic garden or at the edges of a landscape where it will not overtake less vigorous garden plants. Tiger Eyes, or ‘Bailtiger’, is a dwarf garden variety of Rhus typhina that is less aggressive than the plain species, and a quarter of its size. USDA Zones 3–8.
Autumn image: “Sumac de Virginie”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Fruiting image: “Daniel Fuchs.CC-BY-SA.Rhus typhina” by Daniel Fuchs – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
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